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Just One Moment's Distraction

IT WAS ALL OVER IN A FLASH, literally in the blink of an eye. The airplane was trashed and a deer laid dead on the taxiway, half-butchered by the propeller of the now-blood-covered plane. How this happened is the sad story of a distracted pilot, the proclivities of nature, and just a bad combination of circumstances...

IT WAS ALL OVER IN A FLASH, literally in the blink of an eye. The airplane was trashed and a deer laid dead on the taxiway, half-butchered by the propeller of the now-blood-covered plane. How this happened is the sad story of a distracted pilot, the proclivities of nature, and just a bad combination of circumstances...

IT WAS A NIGHT TO REMEMBER. The sky was clear and black as our pilot made his way out to the airport. Our pilot's plane had just returned from an extensive avionics upgrade. He was looking forward to flying the pattern a few times to see how everything would work. But he was also looking forward to honing his night flying skills to assure they would meet the requirements of the FARs, and his own rigorous standards.

GOOD THOUGHTS, RIGHT. The pilot had his head on straight. He was going to practice night landings. He planned to make full-stop landings, instead of touch-and-go landings, to assure he had the technique down correctly. The night was clear, the stars were shining, the wind was calm, and there was a wide spread between the temperature and the dewpoint, assuring a fog-free night.

As our pilot arrived at the airport, he carefully performed a pre-flight of the airplane. He appropriately checked the oil, checked all the fuel sump points, and checked the pitot tube and static ports, and everything else on the checklist. He carefully pulled the plane out of the hangar, and after closing the door, fired up the engine, which came to life with a throaty growl. After turning on his night lighting package and taxi light, he made his way out to the taxiway, and down toward the departure end of runway 36 for his runup.

As the plane taxied south, the pilot couldn't help but marvel at the changes that had been made to his instrument panel. The new avionics gleamed softly in the low ambient light of the cockpit, and the displays of the MFDs (multifunction displays) illustrated his position on the airport quite nicely. Our pilot had been looking down, so he glanced up again to look at the taxiway. His course had drifted slightly to the left of the taxiway centerline, so he corrected his course, and then looked down again, to set his trim for takeoff.

HIS THUMB WAS ON THE TRIM BUTTON, AS HE WATCHED THE TRIM POSITION START TO CHANGE. For reasons he can't understand, he chose that moment to take another look out of the cockpit, and when he did, well, it was too late...

A DEER HAD WANDERED ON TO THE TAXIWAY, AND WAS STARING INTO HIS LANDING LIGHT. The light transfixed the deer, and the plane, taxiing forward at several knots, closed the few feet between it and the grey-brown deer with impressive speed. Before the pilot could even think to react, the prop had started on a grisly task...

THUMP, THUNK, THUMP, CRUNCH!!! The plane lurched to a stop as the pilot pulled the throttle back to idle and stood on the brakes, and the nose wheel ran into the carcass of the dead deer. Fortunately for our pilot, he wasn't moving too fast, and able to arrest most of the forward motion quickly, so the nose gear was not damaged. The deer however, was a total loss...

WHAT WENT WRONG? When you are taxiing a plane, think about what you are sitting behind...

  • A large engine or engines with anywhere from 80 to several hundred horsepower;
  • Connected to a (most often) metal propeller, which looks very similar to the blades of a blender;
  • That will chew up anything that it comes in contact with, even at relatively low power levels...

WHAT A MESS. There was blood everywhere -- on the fuselage, on the prop, on the windows, on the ground... EVERYWHERE. The engine and prop had suffered severe distress (though thankfully little when compared to the outcome for the deer), and the owner and A&P agreed that it had to be torn down for inspection. The deer, well, lets say that the deer got to help feed homeless people as part of the local sheriff's program.

AN AIRPLANE REPRESENTS GREAT FREEDOM, BUT ALSO GREAT RESPONSIBILITY. In this case, our pilot got off lucky, since he hit was an animal and its relatives weren't likely to sue. (Although some would argue that the damage, repair, cleaning cost, and downtime experienced was hardly a slap on the wrist.) What if it had been some careless teenagers, out fooling around, or this had occurred while landing... The consequences and pain could have been much, much higher.

TAXI WITH CARE -- EVERYWHERE. Fly the airplane until everything stops moving. When your plane is moving, whether on the ground or in the air, keep your eyes moving and looking for problems. If you see something that could get too close, do the right thing and either change course, or stop your forward motion. If push comes to shove and due to circumstances beyond your control a collision on the ground can't be avoided, pull the mixture quickly and shut down the engine!

Our pilot is suffering from recurring nightmares of this night, playing the events that had occurred over and over again. Avoid those nightmares yourself. Operating an aircraft is a huge responsibility. Be careful when you taxi.

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